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Walter Cook Spens vs Cecil Valentine De Vere
"Sing a Song of Sick Spens" (game of the day Sep-27-2007)
Dundee Congress (1867), Dundee SCO, rd 9, Sep-13
Bishop's Opening: Thorold Gambit (C23)  ·  0-1


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Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: Something that I don't understand is why would anyone want "a pocketful of rye".
Sep-27-07  bvwp: As I recall, Sir Patrick Spens was fetching the daughter of the king of Norway to Scotland, though the tersest extant version of the ballad doesn't make this clear. It's wonderful stuff but rather gnomic.

A pocketful of rye: bait for birds, I'd imagine.

Premium Chessgames Member
  JG27Pyth: <Apocryphal of Rye?>

Foreign twin-tea blackboards begged in ape eye?

Sep-27-07  zb2cr: The poem "Sir Patrick Spens" is indeed about a Scots sea-captain of that name sent to Norway to fetch the Norwegian king's daughter back to Scotland.

However, the poem details that not just the young lady drowned; the entire ship was lost with all hands.

Interestingly, there was a Patrick Spens who was lost off Aberdour in the 16th century.

A pocketful of rye might also refer to rye whiskey, in which case I might understand why someone might want it ...

Premium Chessgames Member
  Jack Kerouac: <ZB2CR> A wry comment for sure....
Premium Chessgames Member
  Domdaniel: <rye> Could have something to do with the old sandwich-makers' saying: "Customers should see salami, comin' through the rye"

Incidentally, and apart from blackbirds and Sir Patrick, why are we singing about 'sick Spens'? -- Spens wins the game, and anyway De Vere died young of some horrid 19th century wasting disease. Consumption or plague or something like that.

Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: An unusual exchange;black's queen is lost and white will be a knight and pawn ahead.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Domdaniel: After so much mayhem, one would have expected Black to wait another move before resigning. In the final position 27.Ke1 wins but 27.Ke3 loses to 27...d4+
Sep-27-07  zb2cr: <Domdaniel>,

You wrote, "...27. Ke3 loses to 27. ... d4+".

How? After 27. ... d4+; 28. Kd2, Rf2+; 29. Kc1, Qxg1+; 30. Rxg1+ White remains a piece up. If 28. ... dxc3+; 29. Kxc3 and the checks are over, and White is 2 Pawns up. Remember the Queen is still pinned!

Premium Chessgames Member
  fm avari viraf: From the very start go till the very end, it was all pyrotechnics & a great thriller. The pun "Sing A Song Of Sick Spens" make me think that during this game Spens was sick but he won the game & so my pun would be "Sing a Song of Sick Valentine".
Sep-27-07  pawnofdoom: The opening was crazy, with black sacrificing two pawns, creatings weakensses on both his king and his queenside pawns. And then everything started to get complicated and sacs went all over the pace. Cool game, but really hard to follow. I didn't understand half the moves until I spent like 30 minutes on this game
Premium Chessgames Member
  Domdaniel: <zb2cr> after 27.Ke3 d4+ 28.Kd2 Rf2+ 29.Ke1 Rg2 the Queen isn't pinned anymore and both white pieces will be attacked after an exchange on g2. 29.Kc1 is much the same.
Sep-27-07  zb2cr: <Domdaniel>,

Thanks for the explanation, I missed the possibility of 29. ... Rg2.

Sep-27-07  beginner64: How about the following line:
16.. Ne3+.

Of course, 17. Kxf2 leads to equality for black with 17.. Nfg4+ 18. Ke1 Qxg5. However, if white responds with 17. Ke2, then black's continuation is not clear. 17.. Qe7 is one candidate move.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Richard Taylor: La grande vit dans la 'ere!!! Les eruditiuonnne!! Ahhhh.......

Dere eeeeez l'ope! Les Cheeease players sont no' all compu'er geeks or colde pheeeyicieeests (froides) wiv 20 extra brayne lobbes!! I retractezx - je retractez vous!! Some cheeeze playeurs sont do avez les ames !!! Bon! Bon bon bon bon!!!

Premium Chessgames Member
  sneaky pete: It's called Thorold Gambit because of

click for larger view

6.. g6 7.fxg6 0-0 8.gxh7+ Kh8 9.Be2 Bxf2+ 10.Kxf2 Ne4+ 11.Ke1 Qh4+ 12.g3 Nxg3 13.Nf3 Rxf3 14.Bxf3 Ne4+ 15.Ke2 Qf2+ 16.Kd3 Nc5+ 0-1 NN vs Thorold, Bristol 1865.

May-15-13  thomastonk: I have some doubts on the result.

As noted the game is taken from "Transactions of the British Chess Association, p. 89", whose full title is "Transactions of the British Chess Association for the years 1866 and 1867", edited by Johann Jacob Loewenthal and George Webb Medley and published in 1868. The final comment is: "And after several more moves, Black won the game." This looks like a simple mistake, because White is winning, but the comment at 25.Qxg4+ is: "A mistaken combination." Looking on page 9, where the results are given in an unusual form, one gets: "Mr. De Vere won from Herr Steinitz, Colonel Robertson, Dr. Fraser and Messrs. Hamel, Spens, and MacDonnell, and drew a game with Mr. G.B. Fraser - total 6 1/2."

Therefore I checked "The English Morphy" by Hindle & Jones. According to them (p 12), Spens finished last with only a half point. This can also be found in L÷wenthal's chess column in "The Era" of September 29, 1867.

So, is it time to assume that Spens "found" 27.Ke3? and lost the game?!

May-15-13  thomastonk: L÷wenthal published the game with slightly different comments in "The Era" on May 1, 1870 (sic). 25.♕xg4+ is again called an error, and De Vere wins, of course.
May-16-13  thomastonk: Meanwhile I am quite sure that the result is wrong: De Vere won.

Here one can find a few more sources:

I have found no source claiming that Spens finished with a full point or more. Moreover, both players did not met at another event in Dundee 1867: Spens played the "Scotch Tournament", but De Vere did not. And De Vere was eliminated from the "Handicap Tournament" in the first round by Blackburne. So, this game should belong to the "Grand Tournament" as reported by L÷wenthal and Medley.

However, before I am going to submit a change request, I would like to continue to find the remaining moves. I have checked the contemporary newspapers which I can access, but the "Illustrated London News" is not among them. Some help is very much welcome.

Thank you for reading.

Premium Chessgames Member
  zanzibar: <Thomastonk> perhaps the colors are wrong?

I agree with the assertion that de Vere won, in order to match all the contemporaneous accounts.

The Transactions give the game as <CG> has it, and it's clearly wrong. There is no way Black went on to win.

Well, not the Black of our contemporary usage. But back then, Black might have first move...

I propose the simple fix of switching the player's color (contemporary usage, i.e. DeVere was White).

Jul-15-15  thomastonk: <z: Perhaps the colors are wrong?> Perhaps.

<There is no way Black went on to win.> Well, if White "found" 27.♔e3?, he is already lost.

<I propose the simple fix of switching the player's color (contemporary usage, i.e. DeVere was White).> I dislike this idea. Contradictory sources or conflicting information are routine, and in such cases I try to follow the statement that E. Winter made in C.N. 8222:

<That is how proper writers (not only historians, of course) work. When they know, they explain why they know. When they are uncertain, they explain why they are uncertain. When they do not know, they either say that they do not know or they say nothing. That is honest writing which treats the reader with respect, and there is no other kind worth doing.> (I don't remember how often I quoted this.)


Back to this game: presently everyone can see the problem, and that's fine for me. If someone would exchange the player names, then the problem is hidden, but the solution is unproved, or there are in fact two mistakes which no one is able to notice.

About possible future approaches. It would be nice, if someone could access the "Illustrated London News", volume 51. Also, a second look to "Dundee Courier and Argus" could be useful (-> tournament introduction). I checked the rare opening choice, but I think it does not indicate something in one way or the other. From my impression of all moves, White played indeed much superior.

Premium Chessgames Member
  zanzibar: <<That is how proper writers (not only historians, of course) work. When they know, they explain why they know. When they are uncertain, they explain why they are uncertain. When they do not know, they either say that they do not know or they say nothing. That is honest writing which treats the reader with respect, and there is no other kind worth doing.> (I don't remember how often I quoted this.)>

For the record, and before I present some counter-arguments on the particulars, I always argue for clear documentation of the situation.

Anyone who has ever read my blog knows I do so to the point of tedium.

I never want to hide information. So, I am doubly unhappy with the situation as it now stands.

We very likely have the wrong colors, we almost certainly have the wrong result, and this situation isn't documented in either the PGN or the tournament intro.

My proposed correction can be done in complete congruence with Winter's admonition by explicitly documenting the changes in both the intro and the PGN.

Jul-29-15  thomastonk: <zanzibar> I have not attacked or accused you, and so there was no reason to defend.

You are unhappy with the current situation, and me, too. During the past days I've spend again several hours with searching another source. In vain - quite frustrating!

<My proposed correction can be done in complete congruence with Winter's admonition by explicitly documenting the changes in both the intro and the PGN.> I'm not going to doubt this.

I like your proposed correction a lot. Really! But it is based on a guess. And other guesses are possible, too. The current game score, however, is in coincidence with the only two known sources of the game. Okay, these two sources are not independent, but I consider this information to be of some value.

The documentation of the problem in an introduction and the PGN is basically an independent issue, and needs, as far as I can see, no exchange of player names.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Tabanus: Glasgow Evening Post, 14 Sept 1867:

<The Grand Tourney was brought to a termination yesterday, when two games were played - one being won by Herr Neumann from Mr G. B. Fraser, and the other was <won by Mr De Vere from Mr W. C. Spens.>> Plus Dundee Courier gives Spens 1/2 only in final score.

That should settle issue. But with which color did De Vere win? White is better the whole game, and about +4 after 11...h5, but 27.Ke3 is thinkable.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Tabanus: I requested this game set to 0-1, with the following note:

"De Vere definately won the game. The question is whether he was Black or White. After 5 other games as White (and 3 as Black) he was probably Black, in which case Spens must have made a mistake later, say 27.Ke3"

In the worst case one mistake gets replaced by another, but De Vere at least gets his point. (Neumann and MacDonnell also have 4 vs 5 of each color.)

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